Allow me to introduce myself. I’m Matthew Mitcham. Career highlight to date would have to be marching as 2009 Mardi Gras Chief of Parade and I suppose the reason I’m here tonight is because Ian Thorpe couldn’t make it.
I like sharing my story. I like listening to other people’s stories, too, because I enjoy that little flutter you get when you relate to what someone else is saying. That realisation that you’re not the only one who does, thinks, feels the things you feel – the joy of connection.
There have been a couple of times in my life where I didn’t feel the joy of connection for years. I’m not going to go all Freudian but it’s definitely my mother’s fault: we’re both card-carrying members of the cuckoo club. Certified. Medicated. But (relatively) stable.
I could go on about mum for a whole hour (actually, there’s an idea for a cabaret show…) but tonight I’m telling some of my story. Specifically, the bit about depression (boring) and my addiction to crystal meth (ok, I’m listening).
When I heard that song for the first time a few weeks ago, I felt that little flutter. I related to everything. Going out partying every night. Going out just so I didn’t have to be home alone. The difference was that it wasn’t because of someone else, I literally couldn’t stand to be with myself: my own thoughts, feeling worthless and unlovable regardless of how much evidence there was to the contrary.
Of course I know now that that’s depression, but at the time I didn’t want to seem ungrateful for everything that I had so I tried to fix the problem by myself.
In my years of teenage partying crystal was everywhere. Everyone did it – it just seemed so normal. Of course it didn’t take long for me to figure out it was the most potent way to change the way I felt…eventually leading me to stop feeling altogether, which was preferable at the time.
I was so ashamed of what I was doing that asking for help was the absolute last resort. I tried to quit by myself so many times. I would promise with every single cell in my body that I would never use again. But you’re fighting with your own brain which is physiologically hooked and is twisting your thoughts and justifying anything in order to keep feeding the addiction.
Out of desperation I finally reached out. That was the turning point. I went to rehab where I learnt how bad my self-esteem was, where I learnt that all these forms of escapism like sex and drugs were a symptom of the depression rather than the cause of it, and I learnt how to deal with my thoughts and feelings in a healthy way so that I never felt the need to numb them out.
Now that I’ve got a few years of sobriety under my belt I quite enjoy talking about this stuff. I’m proud of who I am and what I’ve achieved (not just my mental health-related achievements, but now that I have healthier self-esteem I can actually appreciate my other achievements properly, too!)
Another perk: when people ask me why I’m not drinking. ‘Oh, I’m a recovering meth addict so it’s probably not a good idea.’ I get a twisted amount of pleasure watching them squirm with shock.
I guess the main reason I share my story is because I believe that if the potential benefit to others outweighs the potential detriment to myself then I should share. Because the more I share, the more we all share, the more it helps to break down the stigma and shame that kept me from reaching out for years. And you just never know who may experience a little flutter upon hearing your story.